Building on the Kernel Essay
The first step is to create a Quick List of possible topics, or students can use a topic they already have. As a substitute, I always have the students create a Quick List since it avoids the "I don't know what to write about" dilemma. I have students number a paper 1 though 5. And then I provide a guide as to what those five topic choices will be. I usually do something like: 1) A time when you felt the most proud; 2) A sad time; 3) A reptile moment (some sort of encounter with a reptile); 4) The last time you laughed really hard; 5) A pet peeve. Along the way, I give examples and share stories from my life. Once the list is created, the students look over their responses and circle one. That is their topic for the Kernel Essay.
To start the Kernel Essay, I tell students to write one sentence telling me where they were at this time. The next sentence answers the question, "What happened first?" Continue having students write one sentence for: what happened next; how were you feeling; what happened last; and what did you learn. Again, I model along the way, choosing a topic from my life. You can change up the questions as you wish. Gretchen Bernabei offers many examples in her workshops and books. Once a sentence is written for these six questions, I have students share what they have written. The results are amazing!
The Kernel Essay is just a starting piece for a more involved piece of writing. I like to have the students create flip books, writing one sentence from their kernel on each page. Then having them add as many details on each page as possible. Once all this is written together, students have a complete piece of writing. Try it! I promise you will like the results!
For a kernel essay the writer writes about a topic, using the text structure as a guide, creating one sentence per box. This collection of sentences is called a kernel essays. The next step is for the writer to read the kernel essay aloud to several listeners to see whether the text structure worked for the topic. For more information see Gretchen Bernabei’s Reviving the Essay.
Below is an example of a text structure and kernel essay about a memory.
Kernel essays can be used for many writing purposes. This includes writing in each content area. Below are a few text structures specifically geared towards content area writing. For an expanded list of disciplinary literacy text structures and possible uses click the following link: Disciplinary Literacy Text Structures
Text Structures for History
Example of a kernel essay in the history classroom:
Text Structures for Science
Example of a kernel essay in the science classroom:
Text Structures for Math
Example of a Kernel Essay in a Math Classroom
Material from Gretchen Bernabei
Kernel Essay Planning Sheet
STAAR Genre Text Structure
Comic Book Text Structures
Science Fair Project Planning Sheet (page 39)
Teacher Blogs About Kernel Essays
Expository Writing: Gretchen Bernabei Style
Teacher Examples of Kernel Essays